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Will Fashion & Beauty Ecosystems Soon Be Gender Anonymous?

By Renée Batchelor

Felicia Yap

Not so very long ago, men were men, women were women and, anyone 
in between the two genders did not necessarily register in our collective consciousness. While almost every society had individuals within its communities that are non-binary (those who didn’t fit into the social construct of gender and its norms — from the hijra in India to the two-spirits in indigenous North American tribes) — these individuals existed on the fringes of society.

Modes of dress and presentation were also strictly gendered. In Western culture, men literally (and exclusively) wore the pants — until the day women started wearing bloomers underneath their skirts. In 1911, designer Paul Poiret created harem pants for women, and in the 1920s Coco Chanel made it chic to wear riding trousers beyond the stables. For most of the past century, the luxury of using makeup was almost exclusively a woman’s right — with some exceptions.

Fast forward to the present day: Every revolution begins with the tiniest of seeds, and a slew of game-changing new labels, brands and boutiques are taking the first, important step in bringing fashion and beauty firmly into the future. The question of whether the traditional segmentation of makeup, skincare, fragrances and clothing into categories like “male” and “female”
is still relevant today is being questioned by forward-looking names like No Sesso, The Phluid Project and Jecca Makeup.

Already more mainstream brands have started to blur the boundaries between products for male and female. Maison Margiela carries a range 
of scents labelled Gender Anonymous, while under Alessandro Michele’s direction at Gucci, female models often don pieces from the men’s collection on the runway, and vice versa. In Hollywood, individuals are also challenging the (usually) strict norms with a more relaxed fluidity. Ezra Miller has been wowing with imaginative red carpet clothing (and makeup) choices, while Julia Roberts recently wore a lilac Givenchy suit from the men’s SS19 show at a magazine event. Public figures like television host Jonathan Van Ness regularly dons skirts and high heels. If visibility is the first step towards acceptance, then surely some strides were made in 2018.

Dicko Chan for No SessoThe Fall/Winter 2017/2018 No Sesso campaign shot by Dicko Chan.
The Fall/Winter 2017/2018 No Sesso campaign shot by Dicko Chan.

Do Clothes Make The Man?

One of the brands that is creating amazing, gender-neutral clothing beyond the usual baggy sportswear and suits, is No Sesso. The artisanal clothing brand known for its innovative, genderless knits, is beloved by style icons like Erykah Badu. No Sesso aims to empower people of all colours, shapes, and identities, and to champion the less represented, with black models featuring in many of its campaigns. The designer and creative director of No Sesso, Pierre Davis explains her brand’s non-gendered concept. “No Sesso is Italian for no sex/gender, so it’s important for the brand to showcase clothing on all genders because that’s the brand’s DNA. The designs are always conceptually detailed to tell beautiful stories which our consumers relate to,” she says.
 As to whether the brand is doing anything ground breaking or responding to a trend, Davis begs to differ. “We’re just doing what everyone should be doing — seeing everyone as equal. I not only put this into the clothing; but it is always on our mind when we curate our parties and create images. And it’s the life that we actually live. We hang out with people that represent so many intersecting identities. For us it’s not a trend, it’s a reality,” says Davis.

Meanwhile The Phluid Project, a retail store and cafe in New York has created a community-like environment that is both engaging and inviting for all genders, and goes beyond being purely transactional. The Phluid Project’s founder and CEO Rob Smith had exactly that in mind when he created the space. “The Phluid Project is a world where gender is a spectrum and expressed authentically and individually through fashion, cafe and community. We are more than a traditional store, which historically is based and focused entirely on transaction. The fact is Phluid prides itself on poetry readings, talks, events, and our complimentary community space has allowed us to build customer loyalty. This all-encompassing space is what is being asked of by today’s young people and I believe in honouring this perspective,” explains Smith.

GivenchyActor Ezra Miller in Givenchy Haute Couture on the red carpet.
Actor Ezra Miller in Givenchy Haute Couture on the red carpet.

The store carries everything from apparel to accessories to cosmetics, and aligns itself with queer-owned brands and charitable foundations that reflect its mission and values. “The Phluid Project highlights and normalises the beauty of gender expression like no other space. I knew there needed to be a visual symbol of this ideal, so I created the first genderless mannequin,” says Smith. He believes that this underserved market deserves to be seen and represented. “When I looked at the staggering numbers of individuals identifying as non-binary, gender queer, gender non-conforming and beyond, 
I asked myself a simple question – ‘How are retailers responding to this?’ And more flagrant to me than anything was the sheer disregard of such a demographic and that they weren’t being represented by mannequins.”

Besides creating more inclusive displays, The Phluid Project is also
a “safe” place for its customers to experiment. “Many customers have expressed a sense of freedom upon discovering Phluid, wishing a place like this had existed all their lives. The most rewarding discoveries are when I help someone try on an outfit they otherwise may have felt embarrassed to try because they feared judgment, and seeing the relief and joy when they feel so seen,” says Smith.

The Phluid ProjectCampaign images from The Phluid Project.
Campaign images from The Phluid Project.

Stealing Beauty

The world of beauty has almost always been a woman’s domain especially when it comes to makeup. But the truth is — aside from some slight physiological differences between men and women’s skin — all cosmetics and makeup are actually gender-neutral. Most of the branding of makeup is purely marketing. But brands like Fluide (which retails at The Phluid Project) and Jecca Makeup are making inclusion their point of difference.

Jessica Blackler a UK-based makeup artist and the founder of Jecca Makeup first noticed the need for specific makeup services from customers who were transitioning from male to female. They flocked from all over the UK to her studio because Blackler was giving them what they needed. “My clients felt they couldn’t get the accepting, understanding service and product they wanted anywhere else and fed back that they often felt overlooked by mainstream beauty brands when it came to makeup,” says Blackler.

Jecca MakeupFounder of Jecca Makeup, Jessica Blackler.
Founder of Jecca Makeup, Jessica Blackler.

She then began working with her clients to create products that offered solutions, such as beard shadow coverage, that keep them at the heart of the process. “We want to create products that offer solutions to the challenges that affect our customers. It took me two years to develop our first product — the Correct & Conceal Palette — as the formula had to be creamy and lightweight enough to layer up and camouflage but not be cakey or heavy on the skin. It was also important for me to create an all-natural, vegan-approved product range as its particularly helpful for transgender people who are going through hormonal injections so there’s no nasty ingredients or reactions,” shares Blackler.

And while facepaint may seem frivolous, its impact cannot be underestimated. “Looking at the world right now, there is a great necessity for an unlearning and a relearning. What is gender? What 
is beauty? For many, gender is a spectrum, and how they choose to showcase this to the world is often via beauty products. This is in no way a trend. It is a way of living that cuts deeper than the makeup we put on our face; it is a reflection of who we are on the inside,” says Smith.

Jecca MakeupA campaign image from Jecca Makeup.
A campaign image from Jecca Makeup.

Similary, Jecca Makeup sees its purpose as going beyond providing retail options for its clientele. “In the beauty world, it’s vital that our consumers feel they are being represented and supported, and that shows in our branding and campaigns. Everyone has a right to express themselves as they see fit and look and feel their best whatever their gender. We are far more than a makeup brand, we are also a community and movement that want to educate people about the LGBT community and talk about the importance of awareness,” says Blackler. The brand also walks the talk, donating five per cent of the company’s profits a year to Stonewall, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights charity in the UK.

The Phluid ProjectCEO & Founder of The Phluid Project, Rob Smith.
CEO & Founder of The Phluid Project, Rob Smith.

For The Phluid Project, Smith points out that messages are also sent out via its clothing lines, which carry T-shirts promoting ideals of positivity, balance and inclusivity. In the store and online, you’ll find T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like “Be Kind”, “Gender Is Over”, and “You Do You”. It’s a way of “sharing the sentiments we live by... our social code,” says Smith. “Our 10 rules that make up the social code was a labour of love, and one central to the heart
of Phluid. Honouring our values is what makes us a safe, inviting, and free space that the world needs now more than ever.”